In a number of recent blogs, we reported the number of cases of pregnancy discrimination is rising rapidly — in fiscal 2011, there was an increase of 23% in the number of EEOC charges alleging pregnancy discrimination.
On February 17th we wrote that with women making up almost one half of the workforce, experts have urged the EEOC to be more proactive in directing employers to accommodate women “who require adjustments to work rules as a result of pregnancy or childbirth.” An EEOC attorney cautioned employers that: “refusing to hire a woman because she is pregnant violates federal law, and the EEOC will enforce that law.”
We also reported on March 9th about a federal court which just awarded a pregnant woman substantial damages after finding that her employer made offensive comments about her pregnancy and then terminated her for taking maternity leave. Our warning — the EEOC is serious about pregnancy discrimination!
The US Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division similarly just announced that “the continued enforcement of Title VII is a priority,” and just sued the Nevada Division of Forestry alleging that it fired an employee just after she announced her pregnancy. The complaint alleges that her pregnancy was discussed by Division managers as a reason for her termination. Even aside from this damning allegation, which, if true, seems to be a thoughtless act, the Division did a number of things which were not in keeping with our “best practices” rules.
First, although the employee was apparently a successful work performer who had no prior complaints about her work, the Division began documenting work related problems only when she announced her pregnancy. What a great way to demonstrate to a court an employer’s discriminatory bias – create a record only after she says that she is pregnant! If the employee in fact had work related problems, these problems probably existed well before the announcement of her pregnancy, and the Division should have heeded our oft-repeated warnings — keep good and accurate records, and document, document, and document some more.
Moreover, the Division, although it in fact had written policies regarding terminations, nonetheless did not follow them. We have cautioned before – maintain and update employment practices and policies, and distribute them to employees. And for goodness sakes, follow them!
The local EEOC regional director noted that “Having a new child should be a joyous event, not one that leads to unemployment.” Employers would be well advised to listen to the EEOC’s and the Justice Departments warnings – and ours too!